Mississippi State point guard Lamar Peters floats past Kentucky’s Tai Wynyard in an attempt to get a shot off in their game Tuesday night at Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville. Peters had 25 points in an 88-81 loss. Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch
January 18, 2017 10:28:47 AM
STARKVILLE -- Lamar Peters, Quinndary Weatherspoon, and Mario Kegler looked down at the stats and shook their heads.
The Mississippi State men's basketball players were somber Tuesday night as they digested an 88-81 loss to No. 5 Kentucky. MSU coach Ben Howland didn't look at the stats as he began his opening statement. He praised his players and didn't gaze at the stats until questions were asked.
Despite making several pushes to overcome an 18-point deficit, MSU was left with a sense of would could have been after seeing its three-game Southeastern Conference winning streak snapped before a season-high crowd of 9,768 at Humphrey Coliseum
"You can't knock that team because they're one of the best teams in the country, but when you look at the talent on our team, I feel like we're one of the best teams in the country and we can hang with anybody," said Peters, who scored a career-high 25 points. "It's frustrating because we knew we could win that game."
MSU (12-5, 3-2 SEC) has now lost 10 straight to Kentucky (16-2, 6-0). It's the Wildcats' longest winning streak in the series since they won 17 in a row from 1967-75.
Aric Holman's layup and two free throws by Peters cut Kentucky's lead to 79-75 with 1 minute, 49 seconds remaining. But a dunk by De'Aaron Fox (21 points) and a layup and a free throw by Fox pushed the lead to 84-76.
The Wildcats made five free throws in the final 57 seconds to seal the win.
"I thought we did a great job making a comeback against one of the best teams in the country," Howland said. "You're really disappointed, though, the way we allowed such a big lead to occur. If we hadn't been down 18, if we had been down 10, we would have had a chance to win this game."
Leading 46-34 at halftime, Kentucky extended the margin to 62-44 with 12:54 left. The Bulldogs then went on a 22-7 run to cut the lead to 69-66, which was as close as they would get. MSU received help, as Malik Monk (14 points) was charged with a technical foul for hanging on the rim after a dunk. I.J. Ready made both free throws to help the Bulldogs keep the momentum.
Kentucky coach John Calipari wasn't happy with Monk and took him out of the game. He said his team is a month or two months away from being really good and understanding what it is supposed to do.
"We go into the AAU mode when you're playing all freshmen and sophomores," Calipari said. "There's a point in the game where they think, 'OK, watch this.' You're never going to be that team if that's what your mind-set is."
The Wildcats scored the next seven points to push the lead back to 76-66.
"I don't think they were difficult to hold," said Weatherspoon, who had 15 points. "We just had a couple of breakdowns when they went to the pick and roll. We just couldn't defend that pick-and-roll at certain times."
Kegler (13 points) had a dunk and a 3-pointer in the 22-7 run. Although he wasn't happy with the result, Kegler was proud the Bulldogs kept pushing.
"It showed we have a lot of fight," Kegler said. "No one on this team is scared of anything, scared of no one. We just showed we have a lot of dog on this team."
Wenyen Gabriel added 13 points for Kentucky, while Isaiah Briscoe had 12.
"We ended up making a lot of turnovers that helped contribute to that," Gabriel said. "I don't know what caused that, but we made a couple of mistakes. People will probably call it young mistakes, but we're learning from that."
Peters' teammates shared his frustration because there were several times MSU wasn't able to capitalize, which enabled Kentucky to extend the lead.
"I felt like we had a great shot to win the game," Peters said.
After back-to-back home games, MSU will play Tennessee at 5 p.m. Saturday (SEC Network) at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Ben Wait on Twitter @bcwait
Ben Wait reports on Mississippi State University sports for The Dispatch.